Former NHL player Jack Skille hangs up the skates to coach Park City youth
Skille played in 368 NHL games during his career
Former NHL player Jack Skille had two options: settle down in Park City and become the new director of player development for the Park City Ice Miners youth program, or play hockey for one more year in Dusseldorf, Germany.
As appealing as the prospect of keeping his hockey career going for one more season was, he knew deep down that it was time to hang up the skates.
“I just felt like my heart wasn’t in it and couldn’t make that commitment to the family to ask them to pack up and leave, go to Germany one more time, not knowing if I really wanted to play a full season again,” he said.
Skille has been in this position before. A couple years ago, he told everyone that he was retiring. Skille and his wife, Sara, were living in Park City, and he started coaching peewee hockey for the Ice Miners.
But then a call came from Nurnberg (Germany) Ice Tigers coach Kurt Kleinendorst, whose daughter was friends with Skille’s wife. Skille initially refused Kleinendorst’s offer to play for the Ice Tigers, but eight months later, he approached Kleinendorst again, wanting to play. A month after that, he was off to Germany, where he would pot seven goals and three assists in 16 games before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, after a season in Austria, Skille is retiring from the sport and will be tasked with developing a growing hockey scene in Park City. In addition to his role as director of player development, he will also help coach the Ice Miners’ 14U AA team.
“I decided this is a really good place to remain and stay and try to make a living as a skills director and run hockey camps and clinics and give back to the youth hockey community here in Park City,” Skille said.
Even in a town known for its winter sports, hockey is not as popular as other athletic endeavors. The nearest NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights, is over six hours away, and the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL are the only professional team in Utah. While states like Florida, California and Nevada might not be considered hockey hotbeds, NHL teams in those states have invested in their communities to grow the game.
“Obviously with Vegas and the Golden Knights and their organization, it’s super helpful to have an NHL team,” Skille said. “Nevada was probably going to bend over backwards for an NHL team to give them whatever they wanted to grow the game of hockey in their state.”
Currently, Trevor Lewis of the Winnipeg Jets is the only active player from Utah in the NHL. But Skille sees Park City as a fertile breeding ground for hockey. Park City High School’s team has won back-to-back state championships and is a perennial contender.
“The positives are you have California kids, you got Idaho, you have Colorado, you have Nevada, kids that get overlooked that maybe want to come into this state and play hockey,” Skille said. “The more we grow it internally, the bigger the game will get, the more attractive it’ll be to other states surrounding us here in Utah, and I’m super excited about that idea.”
On the player development side, Park City’s youth hockey players will benefit from receiving coaching and guidance from someone who knows what it takes to make it to the NHL. Skille played 368 games in the NHL across 10 seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vancouver Canucks.
“The odds of making it to the NHL are very, very slim, but there’s a certain work ethic that gets guys there,” Skille said. “I think for me, that’s probably the biggest thing I give to these kids is the experience of ‘This is how you work hard, this is what it looks like. You think you’re pushing it, you’re not.’”
Skille recalls his experience growing up around the University of Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team, including future NHL stars Ryan Suter and Dany Heatley, and the impact that had on him.
“Everybody that had a chance to play pro for me was, even as a teenager, was a really cool experience to just compare and contrast yourself as a player,” Skille said. “Obviously, as a coach now, it’s hard for them to do. But for them to understand that their coach that they’re learning from has lived out the dream they’re pursuing, I would assume is a pretty cool thing for them.”
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